Today is International Women’s Day – a day that makes me reflect, to some degree with dejection, about personal events of the past, given my role as a woman in technology and a leader in business. I share the same stories with many women around the world. With that said, I feel incredible empowerment and optimism about the positive trajectory of women in my field and in leadership positions. This is something I celebrate today.

I also give thanks to the many positive forces in my life who have supported my journey. I can’t continue this post without expressing extreme gratitude for working for Margery Kraus, and APCO, which is majority-woman owned.

As one of the global technology leaders in this company, I wanted to share a few facts about women in tech first – let us understand the urgency of this data and its consequences, please:

  • Women who start out in business roles in tech-intensive industries leave for other industries at high rates. Women cite isolation, hostile male-dominated work environments, ineffective executive feedback and lack of sponsors. 
  • STEM fields have fewer women on boards than other industries. While true – women may have an advantage while on boards, given they’re nearly twice as likely to have professional technology experience among the Forbes 2000. 
  • Women are scarce in scientific research and development. In fact, around the world, averaged across regions, we account for less than a third of people employed in this field.

But this is changing. Our voices are no longer low and soft. And global brands and people are listening; they’re demonstrating that equality is a new point of entry. We need to continue extending our hands in the direction of positive change – especially for girls and women in technology, where the hill to climb is steeper. Positive comments, small gestures and respect in the classroom and workplace are imperative to progress. Human connections power action.

I can say with certainty that the little girl who dared to dream in third grade, did so because of four people. On this day, I share these testimonials to remind people that the impact of a caring palm lasts forever.

When I was nine and in third grade, my teacher gave our class an assignment. As part of a Native American study we were instructed to assemble and color our own tribal members, using templates and cut outs. The project was an exercise in following directions as much as it was an opportunity to bring the unit to life through art. The directions seemed wrong to me, though – how can we imagine people from our past using stencils? I bucked the directions after being firmly warned (two days before conferences) and really imagined the girl that I was learning about. She deserved individuality, and so I cut six strips of paper to braid both sides of her hair. 

It was the first time in my life that I remember choosing to fail. And I did. My grade reflected how well I followed instructions and sequenced work for the project. My braids were not celebrated – initially – I assure you. 

It sounds trivial, perhaps, but it was a defining moment in my life because of what my teacher said to me afterwards. She whispered: “my dear you have failed this assignment, but you may actually win the war.” She was at my high school graduation, waiting on the other side of the stage, and reminded me that I’d need to fight to win the war.

Upon reflection of the Mrs. Anderegg conversation, my mother probed me about what I may like to do with my life as an adult. I told her firmly that I would be a maid. As a maid, I said, I would get to see beautiful homes and expensive things we could only dream about in our subsidized housing. I would share everything I learned with her and my brother. I felt so proud, in that moment, for the solution I had volunteered, to see and share a new world. I will never forget my mom and that moment. She took my hand and she said “Michael Ann – you can do and be anything you wish. If you choose to be a maid, I will support you. But, if you choose to go to college and work hard and get a job so that you can afford to hire a maid, I’d like to come to your home and see your things.”

Momma, thank you. I learned how to see and how to fight from you. Her wife and my father were both incredibly positive forces in my life, too. One was a doctor who showed me that women “can.” The other, my father, has been a life-long mentor, guidance counselor, voice of authority and over time, my closest friend. Men are mission critical in celebrating and supporting the journey of women, too. Thank you, dad.

All of us – men and women – have a responsibility to be the leaders of our future. Kids are watching and listening and are modeling and massaging a new normal. Let’s dare to imagine the world of our future and willfully impact positive change.

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Michael Ann Thomas

Michael Thomas leads APCO’s global Technology practice and is based in the firm's Seattle office. Read More